Inherently funny word

An inherently funny word is a word which can be found amusing without any given context, for reasons ranging from onomatopoeia to phonosemantics. Such words have been used by a range of influential comedians to enhance the humor of their routines.

It is part of the mythology of actors and writers that the consonant plosives (so called because they start suddenly or "explosively") p, b, t, d, k, and g are the funniest sounds in the English language.[1]

What makes a word funny?

Scientific research[2] has been conducted into psychological reactions to words (such as moist [3][4]) and why some words might be funnier than others.[5][6]

Westbury et al found there is a strong inverse correlation between funniness and the property of entropy.[7] Entropy in this case, expresses how usual the letters in the word appear to be – the less commonly they are used, the lower the total entropy and the more funny they are likely to be found. This is entirely consistent with the theories of The World as Will and Representation, who wrote about humour in the early 19th century. Schopenhauer thought that humour, or rather laughter, was a response to when expectations were violated.

According to the Oxford Dictionary,[8] the letters Q, J, Z, X, V, and K are the least used letters and therefore, according to Westbury et al, have the lowest entropy and are likely to produce the funniest words.

Words described as funny

Funny nonsense words

Words may be invented to sound funny. Instances include many works by Dr. Seuss; Goon Show scripts, which often included funny nonsense words, such as ploogie, plinge, thot, lurgy (lurgi), and needle-nardle-noo; and the Knights who say Ni scene from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.[14]

Funny numbers

According to Douglas Adams, the idea that the answer to "the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything" in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is 42 is funny because it is an "ordinary, smallish" number.[15]

In the 1996 video Caesar's Writers, former writers for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows discuss a skit in which Imogene Coca places a bet on a roulette wheel. The writers tried out several numbers before deciding "thirty-two" was the funniest number Coca could say.[16] Neil Simon, one of the writers, went on to write Laughter on the 23rd Floor, based on his experiences writing for Caesar. He claimed the 23 in the play's title was a transposition of 32. Carl Reiner created the Dick Van Dyke Show based on his experiences as a writer for "Your Show of Shows". In a first-season episode, "The Curious Thing About Women", Morey Amsterdam's character, Buddy, explains that a package in a comedy skit they are writing should contain 32 pounds of hair, rather than 15, because "32 has always been a funnier number. I hear 32, I get hysterical!"

Comedian and singer-songwriter "Weird Al" Yankovic uses the number 27 prominently in his parody songs and videos because, according to him, "twenty-seven is a funny number".[17][18]

In the comedy series How I Met Your Mother, the character Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) uses the number 83 in his made-up statistics, because he believes the number is funny.

Bob Barker frequently used two-digit prime numbers as a running gag in his discussion of the Range Game on The Price Is Right, stating that if the contestant stopped the game too early, they could not start it again for another (23, 37, 43) hours. He also used numbers for humorous effect in the Money Game, referring to any number under 10 in that game as "El Cheapo", as the producers would often hide the winning piece behind the lowest numbers.

On the DVD commentary for the British sitcom I'm Alan Partridge, its writers put forward their own theory of funny numbers, going against the more common view that smaller, specific numbers are funny and instead employing large, round numbers (e.g. "a million pounds"). Steve Coogan, creator and star of the sitcom, said in an interview: "... like the number 37. Everyone uses that as a funny number. It's used quite a lot as a random comedy number, like 'that's the 37th time this has happened.' People should use random numbers more. Like 'fifty.' Alan Partridge's assistant is fifty. That was her age. And it sounded funny; I would say, 'this is my assistant Lynn, fifty.' "[19]

See also



  1. In an article in the New Yorker published in 1936, H. L. Mencken argues that "k words" are funny. "K, for some occult reason, has always appealed to the oafish risibles of the American plain people, and its presence in the names of many ... places has helped to make them joke towns ... for example, Kankakee, Kalamazoo, Hoboken, Hohokus, Yonkers, Squeedunk, 'Stinktown' and Brooklyn." In Neil Simon's play The Sunshine Boys, a character says, "Words with a k in it are funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a k. Ls are not funny. Ms are not funny."
  9. "World's funniest joke revealed - 03 October 2002". New Scientist. 2002-10-03. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  10. "Grammar Girl : Words that Sound Funny :: Quick and Dirty Tips". Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  11. "Blackadder Series Two - Bells script" (PDF). Pie Shop Productions. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  12. "Well, Bob". BBC. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  13. "Rowan Atkinson demonstrating how funny 'Bob' can be". BBC. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  14. "Script" subtitles, Monty Python and the Holy Grail DVD.
  15. 42, BBC, 14 March 2007.
  16. "NABOKV-L Archives - November 2002 (#161)". Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  17. An Illustrated History of 27
  18. The 27 list.
  19. Jeffrey M. Anderson (22 August 2008), Interview: Steve Coogan on 'Hamlet 2',


  • Barry, Dave (1991), Dave Barry Talks Back, 1st edn., New York: Crown. ISBN 0-517-58546-4.
  • The Power of the Plosive, Tips & Tactics, 1st Quarter 1999, The Naming Newsletter, Rivkin and Associates.
  • H. L. Mencken, "The Podunk Mystery", The New Yorker, September 25, 1948.

Further reading

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